Less than a year after losing his father to COVID-19, John Dobbin is preparing to bury his mother, who died Friday of the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, just two days shy of her 84th birthday.
In 2020, Gail Dobbin and her husband, Mike Dobbin, contracted COVID-19 while at Victoria General Hospital in Winnipeg and spent 100 days in the intensive care unit.
During that time, both of their roommates died, along with a health-care aide who treated them. The virus "completely emptied out" the floor they were both on, John Dobbin said Monday.
The pair, who were married for 57 years, were moved into Beacon Hill Lodge long-term care home in January 2021.
Mike died in July. Gail was diagnosed with COVID-19 for a second time in late April, during an outbreak at the downtown care home.
Dobbin said while care home staff kept him updated, he doesn’t know the exact details of how and when the outbreak first happened, because the province’s currently available data on COVID-19 outbreaks is so scarce.
"You don’t know how other care homes are being affected, you don’t know if there’s an incident," he said.
"For people who were probably visiting care homes during Mother’s Day… is that care home going to be a possibility for an outbreak simply because nobody realizes just how much COVID is out there in the general population right now? So that visit to mom at the care home could be deadly in so many different ways, and we don’t have reliable information to make diligent decisions."
The province paused regular outbreak updates for personal care homes April 1.
Outbreak information is released each Thursday, and the province "would not have specifics about any one facility, unless there was a need to notify the public," a spokesperson told the Free Press.
“You don’t know how other care homes are being affected, you don’t know if there’s an incident.” – John Dobbin
In the last update, posted May 5, there were 16 outbreaks in long-term care centres and hospitals, including Beacon Hill Lodge, between April 24 and 30.
When asked what she’d say to families who say they’re not being provided enough information about the status of outbreaks at personal care homes, Health Minister Audrey Gordon said she’d "certainly have to look into that."
"You’re just bringing that to my attention. I’ll certainly take that back and talk with Shared Health and our leaders in personal care home settings," she said.
It’s not enough, Dobbin said. Seniors haven’t stopped being one of the communities most vulnerable to COVID-19, the pandemic isn’t over, and less information means residents, staff and visitors aren’t able to fully inform themselves of the level of danger in day-to-day, he said.
"My opinion is that declaring the outbreak over and then shielding information into a weekly thing, they’re going to get burned again," Dobbin said. "All they have to do is provide information. I mean, for gosh sakes, it’s out there. A dashboard shouldn’t be that hard to operate, a briefing from time to time."
NDP health critic Uzoma Asagwara criticized the province’s decision to pull back more regular updates, and said there was "literally no reason for this government to not be providing as much information as possible."
"We’re actually not even sure the extent of the outbreaks of personal care homes right now, because the government’s withholding the information," Asagwara said. "They made that decision because they wanted to try and convince Manitobans that the pandemic was over when it’s not, and also because they don’t want to be accountable to the data."
“We’re actually not even sure the extent of the outbreaks of personal care homes right now, because the government’s withholding the information.” – NDP health critic Uzoma Asagwara
Gail Dobbin wore many hats throughout her life: she was an educator, community worker, librarian, mother of three. She worked as the branch co-ordinator for the United Nations Association for nearly 30 years, and a secretary at Westworth United Church for just as long. She was the first woman to receive maternity leave from Air Canada when she worked as a passenger agent in the 1960s.
Gail and Mike were the go-to parents for any hockey, soccer, football, ringette or volleyball excursion. They were passionate Winnipeg Jets and Blue Bombers fans. In a visit with a priest in her final days, Gail wore a Jets shirt, while a jersey hung on her wall.
"There probably wasn’t anybody who didn’t know my mom as being probably the mom to the entire neighbourhood," John Dobbin said. "And then, in retirement, she was basically the community person people thought of most in the neighbourhood, long-time residents.
"Everybody knew them, they shared themselves with their entire community."
“Everybody knew them (Mike and Gail Dobbin), they shared themselves with their entire community.” – John Dobbin
Her memorial service will be Sept. 10; Mike’s was Sept. 11, 2021. They’ll be buried together.
"I don’t think mom would have wanted to live to 84, if dad died at 83," Dobbin said. "They’re together. If they’re able to watch over, I’m pretty sure they’re waiting for the first Bombers game of the season."
For Dobbin, the memories of both his parents are inextricably tied to the province’s handling of COVID-19.
"Just because we say it’s spring, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not going to snow… Just because the government says COVID-19 is over, doesn’t mean that, health-wise, it really is," he said. "People are dying."
Malak Abas is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.